Despite the predictable nature of Life is Strange’s story, in regards to the mystery surrounding the kidnapping of Rachel Amber, Dontnod has done a tremendous job in keeping us hooked from episode to episode. Nothing about Episode 4: Dark Room came as a total surprise to me, but that didn’t make the episode’s final moments a complete shocker. Regardless that I knew what was coming the whole time, when it actually happened, my jaw dropped to the floor.
Episode 4: Dark Room is easily the most emotional episode I’ve played through yet, which really says something considering the game doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable situations or uneasy topics, like drugs, rape, and murder. The episode picks up directly after the shocking revelation in Episode 3: Chaos Theory, with Max realizing that her powers to control time have rendered her best friend Chloe crippled in an alternate reality.
The first twenty-or-so minutes of the episode are dedicated to exploring this alternate universe. It was an incredibly moving experience, culminating in a decision that, while incredibly emotional and trying, has absolutely no impact on the story. The whole introductory sequence is thrown away when it’s simply undone entirely using Max’s powers. Still, the effect of seeing Max’s best friend Chloe as a paraplegic on her deathbed was strong and had a resonating impact that stuck with me through the very end of the episode.
Speaking of the end, with Dark Room complete we have just one episode remaining. To that end, Dontnod tries to rush the story forward which at this point has two main narratives that are seemingly connected, but we don’t yet know how: we have the search for the missing Rachel Amber, which finally gets resolved, as well as the mystery surrounding some sort of apocalyptic event, which I have no idea how it ties-in. Honestly, the narrative surrounding Rachel Amber and her kidnapper is strong enough that I don’t need to be sidetracked with the impending apocalypse. I worry that the final episode is going to rush through plot in order to resolve everything and not give us the proper narrative we deserve, or have grown accustomed to expect.
As I mentioned, the mystery surrounding Rachel Amber is resolved, sort of. You discover what happened to her, but her kidnapper is still on the loose. However, to uncover the truth, you must first trudge through a series of frustrating puzzles that involve you sorting through various clues you’ve picked up along the way and matching them together with thin links. After sorting out the clues, you are then rewarded with what is perhaps the most sickening sequence we’ve experienced in the game yet. I literally felt gross discovering it.
But that’s not the big reveal. The big reveal, of course, is the person responsible for all of this. It’s predictable, but that doesn’t make it any less shocking when it happens.
Dark Room’s biggest weakness, which has been persistent throughout the season, is its animation. I’m not a graphics snob by any means, but the emotional distress these characters are experiencing is lost when their facial expressions are bland and body language completely stiff. You hear the emotion in the voice, but there’s a disconnect when they stare at you with dead eyes and rigid faces.
With just one episode left, I’m both anxious and intrigued to see how it all comes together — or does it? Dontnod has been notorious with leaving us on edge with massive cliffhangers, so I wouldn’t be the least surprised to see Episode 5 end with a “to be continued.” And honestly, I think I might prefer that, as it seems there’s just too much bitten off to chew in just one last episode.
Note: Rather than assigning a score to each individual episode of Life is Strange, we will be reviewing and talking about them each in length at first and assigning an overall score for the entire season at the conclusion.